The head of the Church of England is not the Archbishop of Canterbury but the monarch of England. The relevant article in the 39 Articles is about the sovereignty of the King or Queen. When the American Revolution ended and the Monarch was no longer sovereign over the colonies, John Wesley did not scrap the article. Instead, he changed it for our context.

Instead of a king, we have a President, instead of parliament, we have Congress, etc..

But what is the point? Why does it matter who the rulers are? Can’t the church be the church wherever it is regardless of the rulers in power?

We have bodies. We were created with bodies. This may seem a minor and assumed point but it is important to state with theological fervor. We have bodies created by God. God became human in a body like our bodies in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

The church is located in a specific place with a specific organization of bodies. This is politics. How are people organized together? Politics is not simply voting or parties but it is how we exist as a society and the church is a part of that fabric. In the United States, we do not have an established church anymore (though multiple states kept established churches even after the adoption of the Bill of Rights). 

Since we, as United Methodists, are not in open revolt of the leaders of the land, even when we disagree vehemently with them, we should acknowledge their authority. Even more so when we love them. Bill Clinton used to say that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. The President is the President, but he or she is not more than that. The governor is the governor and has certain responsibilities, but he or she is not more than that. By naming and including the leaders of the land in the Articles of Religion, I believe that, in some way, their power is limited. Yes, the President is the president. He has a job. I don’t have to love him or like him. In fact, I should not love him. I know a lot of people who loved Obama and I know some who love Trump. I think Article 23 should be a check on that passion. The government has authority, yes, but they are not our gods. As well, as a democracy, we have checks on the powers. We can vote someone else to office. We can participate in organized rally’s and sit-in. We can call our representatives to share our positions. We can prayerfully discern whether some laws are unjust and work to have those laws changed for the common good. 

We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, we give to God what is God’s. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We are citizens of heavenly kingdom but we participate as we can in an earthly one

Article XXIII — Of the Rulers of the United States of America

The President, the Congress, the general assemblies, the governors, and the councils of state, as the delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, according to the division of power made to them by the Constitution of the United States and by the constitutions of their respective states. And the said states are a sovereign and independent nation, and ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.